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Under Secretary Slocombe at NATO Informal Ministerial, Birmingham, England

Presenter: Under Secretary of Defense Walter B. Slocombe
October 10, 2000

(NATO Informal Ministerial, Birmingham, England)

Bacon: Walter B. Slocombe is the under secretary for Defense and is talking on the record. He will give you a summary on what happened this morning, and take your questions on that and other issues that affect the United States and NATO.

Slocombe: Thank you.

This morning, as you know, the ministers focused on the Balkans, talking not only about the situation directly affecting the NATO Forces in Bosnia and Kosovo, but also about the significant development in Yugoslavia with the election of Kostunica.

I think it is appropriate to begin with the observation that a great many of the ministers made, which is the primary credit for this very important, very positive development lies with the Serb people and the Serb opposition, who in the face of intimidation, fraud, irregularities, stood up and spoke so strongly that it was impossible for even all the instruments that Milosovic had at his control to steal the election. Or at least steal it successfully; not that he didn't try.

On the other hand, it is also true that the efforts of the NATO alliance and the EU, and individual countries including the United States, to keep up the pressure on Milosevic, and to make it clear that an essential precondition of a change in Serbia's relationship with the outside world is a change in government, was also an important contributing factor. As one of the ministers has put it, "The game has changed, but the game is not yet over, by a long shot."

It is clearly a positive development; there have been some good initial contacts with Kostunica, indicating a desire to address issues to normalize relations, and to move to change the situation, in connection with that, the United States supports the action of the EU in taking the initial steps to lift the sanctions which have the greatest immediate impact on the Serb population, while maintaining sanctions that are aimed specifically at Milosevic and his cronies.

As the secretary general said in his statement, we expect the new president and new government which will come in power in the FRY, to cooperate on implementing the Dayton Peace Agreement, with respect to Bosnia and UN resolution 1244 and the Military Technical Agreement, with respect to Kosovo.

As you know, at least a couple of you accompanied him, Secretary Cohen came here from meetings in Thessaloniki, Greece, yesterday at the Southeast European Defense Ministers. Before we talk in detail about Bosnia and Kosovo, it is useful to take a moment to look back and see the huge improvement that there has been in the security situation in the international environment in Southeast Europe in the last 8-10 years, in addition to the hopeful steps of Belgrade and to real progress in both Kosovo and Bosnia.

Looking at the countries that were at the SEDM from the region, in alphabetical order, eight to ten years ago, Albania was in a state of near internal collapse, it had a major set of disputes with its neighbors about borders, about the status of minorities, and we are now in a situation where it is a struggling democracy. It has very serious problems, but it needs to improve its economy, but it is cooperating with the Alliance, it has resolved its problems with Greece and with Macedonia, and is moving forward.

Bulgaria and Romania, to depart slightly from the alphabetical order, both governments were dominated by largely unreconstructed former communist regimes. They each had border or ethnic disputes with their neighbors. Romania had major problems with Hungary and Ukraine; Bulgaria, problems with its Turkish minority, with Macedonia - those problems have now been resolved, and again, they are democratic governments trying to make the necessary market reforms, and reform and update their militaries.

In Croatia, Franjo Tudjman was in power, was a major force for instability in Bosnia, in a constant conflict with Belgrade, except when it was in his interest to cut a deal with Milosevic. There was a very high level tension, with respect to the Serbs, and the Krajina. And now, there has been an election, Tudjman's heirs lost the election, Croatia is in the PFP and joined the SEDM at the meeting.

Macedonia, during this period of time, was embargoed by its neighbors; it had problems with both Bulgaria and Greece. It has now held a free election, which I guess it was Secretary Robertson who said, was a very close to normal European election. There are still, in all of these countries, plenty of problems, but we have, over the last eight or ten 10 years, or less, move to a whole new generation of problems, a whole new stage of problems. The problems of consolidating democracy, of consolidating stable international relations. And that is a major step forward in the region. And it is one for which the alliance can claim at least part of the credit.

Turning specifically to the Bosnia and Kosovo, General Ralston and Admiral Venturoni gave reports, that is obviously not for me to say in detail what they said, but just to just give you some highlights, the points that were made by them, as well as by other ministers, and by Secretary Cohen. In Bosnia there has been a substantial reduction in SFOR, from something like 30,000 to something like 20,000, with a corresponding reduction in the U.S. contingent from roughly 6200 to 4300. We are in the process of consolidating, it will be a difficult process, of consolidating three entity armed forces and minority refugee returns are running twice the level they were last year. SFOR is preparing for elections and, in general, there is a secure and stable environment, it is not without difficulties, by any means, but it is a relatively stable country, and in which the civil institutions are beginning to develop and take over.

In Kosovo, an issue of importance for the alliance, the rotation to the fourth headquarters, is virtually complete. The formal change of command will take place in a few days. A major focus there is the preparations for the election, which will take place later this month. KFOR and UNMIK are working very closely on this and other issues that will support the OSCE in carrying out those elections.

The security situation is unsettled, but vastly improved. Incidents of violence are down. The situation in Kosovska Mitrovica has been calm substantially. UNMIK authority has expanded by the shut down of the smelter. In the Ground Security Zone, that is the five-kilometer area inside Serbia, bordering on Kosovo, the efforts by KFOR to ensure that Albanian insurgencies don't provoke Serb over-reaction have been reasonably effective.

I had the privilege of spending Saturday evening and Sunday in Kosovo with the American forces, and I want to add a few personal observations. First of all, the Americans troops are immensely impressive. There is good cooperation with the other nations and even just in the American area, it is a startling range of different countries. We are working with Russian troops, with Greek troops, with troops from the United Arab Emirates, with troops from Poland, from Ukraine, from Lithuania. Any impression that the Americans are holed up in Bondsteel is wholly wrong. The Americans are out on the streets; actively patrolling both mounted and dismounted patrols. In intimate contact with the local leadership, the officers have quite an amazing range of contacts and knowledge of the people in the communities where they deal. There are dramatic changes from when I was there a year ago, in particularly, from when I was there almost a year and a half ago, 15-16 months ago, right after the war stopped. A million refugees have come back, they are rebuilding their lives; you see schools, shops, and houses being rebuilt. Obviously, there is a tremendous amount to do to fix up the infra-structure, and build a viable economy, but the progress that has been made is quite startling. And, in particular, if you contrast from what the situation might have been if you had a million refugees on a sort of Gaza strip in Europe, siting on the borders. There is continuing inter-ethnic violence, it is a serious problem; crime, in general, is a serious problem. KFOR, with the support, and indeed, increasing role with KFOR in a supporting role for the UNMIK police and the local police, are protecting the Serb and other minority populations. Incidents are still to high a level, but they are down. They are getting ready for the election, and in general, the plan there is that the election will be conducted by the OSCE. UNMIK and local police will provide local security, but KFOR will have an active role in protecting polling sites. They will not physically move the ballots, but they will protect the movement of the ballots. The challenge of successfully transition to a multi-ethnic, reasonably, stable community in Kosovo, is by no means, complete. It is well underway, and is generally inspiring to see what has been accomplished. And that is a summary of what was said in the meeting this morning and where we are.

With respect to the elections, it is important to make the point that it is not simply a question of holding the elections, but of making sure that the results are implemented in Kosovo. There has been very good progress with building up local police, Kosovo protection police service. One of the big needs is to build up the judiciary so there is a legal and judicial system. I think that is a summary of what was discussed and what were my impressions from the trip.

Q: You mentioned that there had been some initial contact with Kostunica, by that did you mean NATO contacts?

Slocombe: No, by member countries. They reported on the contents of those contacts.

Q: I have two points, one regarding the events in Belgrade. To what extent do you see a developing difference within the Alliance, between the American's views and the views of some of the European members, as to the timing of the importance of handing over of Milosevic to the War Crime Tribunal? There seems to be a slight difference in emphasis between Washington and some of the European governments.

Slocombe: If you see it, I am sure you see it, I don't see it, and I certainly didn't hear it this morning, and I haven't heard it in others. I think everybody takes the position, which is what Secretary General Robertson just said, that the tribunal is a properly constituted international tribunal; that Milosevic and others have been indicted; there is no statute of limitations on war crimes. They are to be held accountable personally for trial, and for trial by the ITCY, the International Tribunal. On the other hand, it is also obviously true that the first task is consolidation of democracy in Belgrade, that is the priority task. In all honesty, I don't think there is but I certainly did not detect a trans-Atlantic difference of view on this point.

Q: On the second point, on Kosovo itself, there is kind of contradiction in NATO policy, in that we went in to support the ethnic Albanians, but of course, we don't support their view that the ultimate aim should be an independent Kosovo. Not many countries in the region want to see an independent Kosovo. As long as Mr. Milosevic was there, that difference was academic. Are we going to have to put in, are the NATO alliance going to have to put in much more now to convince the political leadership of the Albanian population in Kosovo, that their future actually lies in some sort of relationship with Belgrade?

Slocombe: The position of the United States, the position of the alliance, and the position of the international community are reflected, importantly, in resolution 1244. It is not to support Kosovo independence, but to support a broad autonomy and self-government for the people of Kosovo, and that it should be a multi ethnic community. That is obviously a difficult thing to accomplish. And, you are right, there is a conflict between the desire of many Kosovar Albanians for full juridical independence, state sovereignty, and the desire of many Serbs, including, President Kostunica, for the reintegration of Kosovo, on some terms or other, back into Yugoslavia. That is an issue, which is going to have to be resolved, ultimately by agreement and by negotiation. You make a valid point that it was clear that as long as Milosevic was in Belgrade, there was no prospect of a good faith negotiation, but never addressing the issue was not a viable solution. You are perfectly right; we will now have to address that. It will be a very gradual process.

Q: If I could ask to come back to the question on war crimes. Is there a consensus that Milosevic should be dealt with, primarily, what primly is a matter of Serbs in the first instance. And the question of other indictees still at large, and other Bosnian Serbs?

Slocombe: What I said about Milosevic applies to all the people who have been indicted. It is not for the international community to deal with the question of -- the international community, the United States, NATO, the EU, Russia, have no power, jurisdiction to quash an indictment, or to say that the indictment is not good. The position of the United States is, and I do not detect any difference with any of the other countries that have spoken, certainly this morning, that Milosevic and all the other people who have been indicted should be accountable before the ITCY.

Q: Could I just ask you about the possible reduction of troops in Kosovo and Bosnia in the aftermath of the change we witnessed. Was there any talk about that, and if not, I noticed that Lord Robertson spoke about the appropriate levels to the threat, when might the threat be reassessed within NATO?

Slocombe: There was no discussion -- there was a consensus that it would be inappropriate either to reduce levels in either place now at this point. In Bosnia we have just completed a rather long process which has lead to a very substantial reduction. Remember, we started out with something like 60,000 people. SFOR is now down to something under 20,000. So, that process is just finished. And in the case of Kosovo, obviously, the judgement is the current force level is the appropriate one for the situation as it exists. NATO, as a matter of routine every six months, does a review of these two operations, and will continue to do that. And, at an appropriate time, governments will consider whether, on the basis on the military advice and assessment of the security situation, what is required for the situation, but there is no current plan to reduce in either place. That does not exclude the possibility that, with developments, in both respective places, and in the relationship between Bosnia, in one hand, and Kosovo, in the other, and Serbia, that it might not be possible to make more changes in some point in the future, and that is what will be addressed in future reviews, including one that will be done in December.

Q: Can I ask what is the United States position on European defense policy and producing a European rapid reaction force?

Slocombe: You can certainly ask. The full answer would take a long time. Let me try to give a short answer.

The United States has, since the original idea came up back in the Berlin Ministerial, I forget how many years ago, been in favor of the European initiative to develop its defense capability. Not because we believe that somehow Europe needs to get ready for the United States to leave Europe, because we are not going to leave, and certainly not to replace NATO. But I don't think that is the view of any of the European governments and why they are doing this. We are in favor of this for two reasons, one, we believe that it would be a way to strengthen both NATO and the EU. And second, we understand that it reflects a growing European integration and that this will naturally have a growing European common approach to foreign policy issues, and therefore a desire to have common defense capability, a common military capability to back up those positions.

The issue, I think, is less whether the United States is in favor of this, than it is how to realize the positive potential of this development. And the desire to realize that potential is common to Allies on both sides of the Atlantic and the countries that are both in and outside EU and NATO. There are a couple of priorities. One is that the main problem is capability. As you all know NATO does not have an army; countries have armies, air forces, navies, marine corps. NATO has a certain command structure, early warning capabilities, and communication capabilities, but fundamentally military capabilities is a national issue. And so both NATO and the EU will look necessarily for exactly the same military capabilities. There is an agreement that those capabilities need to be improved, and there is, without completely being identical, virtual agreement on the areas where there has to be priority. To having forces that are more mobile, more deployable, more sustainable, and more effective. And less designed for static defense of frontiers against cross boarder attacks. The Defense Capabilities Initiative and the work within NATO, and the work on the headline goal force within the EU are in this sense very closely compatible. The second point is to how to have a consistent, not identical, but consistent planning process, which, as we think is generally accepted within both the Alliance and the European Union, should be based on the NATO force-planning structure. They are separate organizations, which will ultimately make separate decisions. And that those decisions ultimately will be made only by the members of the organization. But there has to be complete transparency and complete coordination. This is one of the reasons why we made the proposal that there be a full transparency for the non-NATO/EU members into the NATO process and for the non-EU/NATO members into the EU process.

And finally, there is the very important issue of which that is an aspect of participation of the non-EU Allies in being able to consult on decisions that affect their security, and potentially affect their forces. And, in transparent planning. And, reconciling the fundamental fact that both NATO and the EU will make ultimate decisions themselves, with the fact that it is not the same countries, but very broad overlap with very broad common interests. There are a lot of other issues about ESDI and NATO/EU relationships, Berlin plus and all that. That is essentially what our position is. That will be the primary, exclusive subject of discussion this afternoon, and Secretary Cohen, as I understand, will do a press conference and provide more detail.

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